On September 7th, Russian President Vladimir Putin gave a speech in Vladivostok at the plenary session of the Eastern Economic Forum (EEF). In this speech, Putin outlined his perception of a global power shift towards Asia, a process sped up by western sanctions that are dismantling what’s left of European economies.
Unlike the EEF meeting in 2021 which was marked by the optimism of post-COVID economic recovery, this year’s edition was flush with rebuke and warning for the West. In particular, Putin focused on the damaging impact of sanctions on world economies.
Putin had some harsh words regarding western sanctions on Russia, which he addressed as “global [challenges] that are threatening the world as a whole … open and aggressive attempts to force the western mode of behavior on other countries,” a strategy he described as “having been pursued by the ‘collective West’ for decades.”
Putin accused the West of perpetuating a self-serving program, of
seeking to preserve yesterday’s world order that benefits them and forces everyone to live according to the infamous ‘rules,’ which they concocted themselves. They are also the ones who regularly violate these rules, changing them to suit their agenda depending on how things are going at any given moment.
Under retroactive suffering brought on by sanctions against Russia, he said, western elites have started to lose their grip, causing them to “take short-sighted, irrational decisions.” Not only has this run counter to the interests of other countries and people, but has especially hurt the prospects of “the people in those western countries.” “The gap separating the western elites from their own citizens is widening,” according to Putin.
The 69-year-old president went on to sketch a dire picture for Europe, saying that it was throwing
its achievements in building up its manufacturing capability, the quality of life of its people, and socioeconomic stability into the sanctions furnace, depleting its potential, as directed by Washington for the sake of the infamous Euro-Atlantic unity. In fact, this amounts to sacrifices in the name of preserving the dominance of the United States in global affairs.
Due to sanctions, Putin said, we see “one manufacturing site after another shutting down in Europe itself,” a fact he attributed to the “severed business ties with Russia.” The decline of the “competitive ability” of European companies was caused by EU officials “cutting them off from affordable commodities and energy, as well as trade markets.” To twist the knife, Putin predicted a takeover of European businesses by “American patrons.”
He anticipated the major world economies moving away from reliance on western currencies for “performing transactions, storing reserves and denominating assets.” Putin announced that a day earlier, Gazprom and its Chinese partners “decided to switch to 50/50 transactions in rubles and yuan with respect to gas payments.”
While Russia’s inflation rate at 14% is still higher than in many western countries, Putin had a positive prognosis for the Russian economy and said that the goal was to hit the target inflation rate by the second quarter of 2023, while relishing in the fact that the inflation rate in most western countries was “still on the rise.”
The Russian president engaged the topic of food and energy shortages. He accused European countries of continuing to act as “colonizers, exactly as they have been doing in previous decades and centuries.” In this context, he specifically addressed the grain trade out of Ukraine, which despite the 345 million people worldwide facing food shortages, continues to primarily serve the EU market. Out of 87 ships, only 2 delivered grain under the UN World Food Program, he claimed. Putin hinted at plans to consult with the president of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, to “think about limiting exports of grain and other food to this destination,” as the facilitation of grain exports from Ukraine was permitted “primarily to help the poorest countries.”
Putin said, “this situation has been caused by the reckless steps taken by the United States, the UK, and the European Union, which are obsessed with illusory political ideas.” The well-being of not only western citizens, but also of those “outside the so-called golden billion,” had been pushed “to the back burner,” which will inevitably lead western countries “into a deadlock, an economic and social crisis, and will have unpredictable consequences for the whole world.”
In contrast to the West’s performance, Putin finds Russia’s prospects promising. Despite the sanctions, the “financial market has stabilized, inflation is going down, and the unemployment rate is at an all-time historical low of less than four percent.” His assessment clashes wildly with the prognosis of western economists who have long predicted an impending collapse of the Russian economy. However, as the European Conservative’s own Sven Larson showcased, a recent report from Yale “demonstrating” the inevitability of Russian economic collapse was merely intellectual fraud and not a realistic estimation of the situation.
In a rare display of vulnerability, Putin admitted to “a number of problems in some sectors, regions, and individual enterprises, especially those that relied on supplies from Europe or supplied their products there,” but used the opportunity to highlight the overall futility of sanctions:
An absolute majority of Asia Pacific countries reject the destructive logic of sanctions. Their business relations are focused on mutual advantage, cooperation, and the joint use of our economic capabilities to the benefit of our countries’ citizens.
A core challenge Putin sees for Russia, however, is the current demographic problem, with birth rates plummeting and Russia—despite the influence of the Orthodox church—still dealing with the world’s highest abortion rate. In his speech, Putin said he wanted to make the Russian Far East “a truly attractive place for living, studying, working, for starting families, to ensure that more children are born.” These plans include the urban development and modernisation of infrastructure and communities in the Russian Far East. Putin also announced plans to subsidize rental housing in the region in a bid to attract young professionals to move to the Far East.
The phantom of Ukraine remained invisible until the moderator of the panel, Ilya Doronov, noted its absence from the speech. When asked to discuss what Russia had gained and what it had lost since the invasion of Ukraine on February 24th, Putin replied:
I think—I am sure—that we have not lost anything, nor will we lose anything. As to our gains, I can say that primarily we have strengthened our sovereignty, which is the inevitable result of what is happening now.
Putin did admit, though, that “there is a certain polarization happening,” in the world, as well as in Russia. But Russia’s long-time ruler said he was convinced that “this will benefit us if anything, because we will shed everything unnecessary or harmful, and anything that hinders our forward progress.”
He went on to repeat his stance that Russia “did not start anything in terms of hostilities,” but was rather “only trying to end it.” Referring to the beginning of the conflict between Kyiv and Eastern Ukraine in 2014, Putin justified his course of action as a result of “mirroring the actions of our potential adversary—using military force.” Putin also expanded on his dismissal of western hegemony over the past decades, recalling the wars in Iraq, Libya, and Yugoslavia as examples of breaches of international law.
Western press reacted dismissively to Putin’s speech. The Guardian called it “bellicose” and disputed Putin’s claim that only 2 of 87 ships leaving Ukraine with grain had gone to developing countries. The British newspaper noted also that the Russian Eastern Economic Forum was “a diminished affair this year,” pointing out that only Myanmar and Armenia had sent “top politicians” to attend the event. According to Reuters, the forum failed to acknowledge the presence of China’s top legislator Li Zhanshu, the third in line in the Chinese Communist Party.
The Washington Post referred to Putin’s speech as “defiant” and quoted the President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen’s announcement that the EU planned to break Russia’s grip on global energy markets with its caps on oil and natural gas prices. “Not only because Russia is an unreliable supplier, but also because Russia is actively manipulating the gas market,” said von der Leyen, adding that she is “deeply convinced that with our unity, our determination, our solidarity, we will prevail.”
In his speech, Putin referred to price caps as “yet more stupidity without any prospects,” as caps “will send prices skyrocketing in world markets, including the European market. Nothing can be achieved in the economy and global trade using administrative measures.”
The German news agency RND had a fact-checker go over Putin’s speech and concluded the speech was “story time for his crude world view.”